By Tanya Connor
The Catholic Free Press
UXBRIDGE – After his mother died, he took care of other elders. After they died, he was left homeless.
A piece of bread – and the Bread of Life – changed him.
Todd Smith, 55, tells this story of his life, with help from other St. Mary’s parishioners.
He and his father took care of his mother when she had cancer. She died in 2001 at age 65.
“I lost three-quarters of myself,” Mr. Smith says of that time. “I loved my mother. I haven’t found that type of love ’til now.”
Between “then” and “now” his life has been changed by the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and the Light of the World evangelization program.
Mr. Smith says that after his mother died, he became homeless. An elderly friend let him stay with her in exchange for taking care of her. He also took care of three other widows. After they died, he was homeless again.
“I lived in a junkyard,” Mr. Smith says. “Then we get to the good stuff: I went to the food pantry.”
When he arrived at the community’s People First Food Pantry on Dec. 14, 2014, a worker there stuck out her hand – to shake his and give him some bread.
“And then she put her arms around me and brought me inside for more food,” Mr. Smith says. “That arm is special.… It’s God’s hand.… That bread just … turned me around.”
“You got the Bread of Life,” Dwain Robbins, St. Mary’s RCIA coordinator, tells him.
That’s because Mr. Smith’s “angel” at the food pantry, who choses to remain anonymous, did more than feed him. She and a Congregational minister helped him get a motel room. Others helped him get social security, medical care and an apartment.
When Mr. Smith asked about area churches, the food pantry angel told him she used to go to St. Mary’s, and it was a nice church.
He met the pastor, Father Nicholas Desimone, who eventually helped him get into the RCIA.
He was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 2015. (He’d been baptized in a Congregational church as a baby, but stopped attending when he was 18.)
“I felt God in me; I was flying high,” he says of the night he became Catholic.
“We had to hold you down,” Susan Leighton, St. Mary’s administrative assistant, reminds him.
She says he was very sick, and they were concerned he might not live to see the next Easter Vigil. They’ve stretched out the RCIA’s post-vigil Mystagogia stage for him, so he can better understand what he’s learned.
“I was still a wild person, because I was outdoors for a year and a half,” Mr. Smith says. “They controlled my wildness” at St. Mary’s “and helped me to become a group person.”
They taught him how to pray and study the Bible and he forced them to communicate the faith better, he and fellow parishioners say.
Mr. Smith didn’t stop at his own growth. He’s drawing others to Christ and his Church, including his father.
“He said, ‘If my son can do it, why can’t I?’” Mr. Smith says of his father’s reasoning. He says a couple of his siblings joined the Catholic Church too, and he’s working on a couple others.
How did he convince them to become Catholic?
“They knew I was wild and they were praying to God I’d get off the street.”
Mr. Smith not only got off the street; he got into a family.
St. Mary’s RCIA used to be “very much a school model … more about information,” says Mr. Robbins. Now it’s more communal. Candidates share their journeys, and he’s been to their homes. Still, it’s not RCIA’s role to meet their physical and emotional needs. But the team did that with Mr. Smith.
RCIA team member Denise Rogan says Mr. Smith spends holidays at parishioners’ homes, and Christmas gifts for him filled the church office.
“We all do things,” Mr. Robbins says. “He’s part of our lives now. We love him.”
That community bond was strengthened with Mr. Smith’s participation in the Light of the World retreat, and subsequent participation in a small faith-sharing group.
“The Light of the World … has awoken me,” Mr. Smith rejoices. “I said, ‘This church is glowing in the night, beaconing everybody to come to it.… They all become one with Jesus.’”
He tells of receiving a mandate to help with this process. He says he was very sick and “died,” but “Jesus or an angel working for Jesus” wouldn’t let him into heaven.
“They said, ‘Come back and do something,’” he says. “The final finale is Light of the World.”
How does he contribute?
“I organize the books and stuff in the church. I do little things to help people. I’ve made a lot of friends and I’m friends back to them; it works both directions. That’s what God wants.”
He says he does a lot for his small faith-sharing group.
“And so does everybody else,” he adds. “It’s a team effort. We’re trying to get to God.… We talk about our faith and different ways to get there.”
Mr. Smith tells about a drawing of descending and ascending steps he made: “It shows the Light of the World taking me to heaven.”
Meanwhile, he’s spreading the light on earth. And not just at church. He tells of praying with people who’ve had health problems like his, including fellow residents at his apartment complex. He socializes there too.
Is he trying to evangelize fellow residents?
Just be friends, he says. As for evangelization, “it’ll come.”
218 take steps toward Easter Vigil
By Tanya Connor
The Catholic Free Press
“Never miss any opportunity to be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ,” Bishop McManus begged about 200 people en route to their first opportunity to do that.
They are preparing to receive the sacraments of initiation – baptism, first Communion and confirmation – at an Easter Vigil Mass, celebrated the night before Easter Sunday.
These individuals, with their godparents, sponsors and other supporters, nearly filled St. Paul Cathedral last Sunday. Bishop McManus was preaching at the special liturgy held annually in Catholic cathedrals around the world on the first Sunday of Lent.
This liturgy is part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. It is often referred to simply as the Rite of Election. More formally it is called the “Celebration of the Rite of Election of Catechumens and of the Call to Continuing Conversion of Candidates who seek to Complete their Christian Initiation.”
Elizabeth A. Marcil, director of the diocesan Office of Religious Education, reported that this year the diocese has 117 catechumens (people who have not been baptized), 65 candidates who were baptized Catholic and are completing their initiation, and 36 candidates who were baptized in other churches and are to be fully initiated into the Catholic Church.
They come from 38 parish communities and the campus ministry outreach at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
At this liturgy the catechumens are called by name, by parish or college. They inscribe their names in the Book of the Elect and greet Bishop McManus, who declares them members of the elect. The candidates follow a similar process, without inscribing their names. Bishop McManus says the Act of Recognition over them and they greet him.
Bishop McManus spoke about these people as new life for the Church, and said where there is new life there is new hope.
In his homily he said the heart of the Christian life is a personal relationship with Jesus.
He talked about the sin of Adam and Eve, which tainted all human beings, and how God sent Jesus to make things right. The hope of salvation is offered to everyone, and all are called to turn their eyes upon Jesus and call out to him, he said.
The bishop told the catechumens and candidates they were there by God’s call.
“This is a great day of rejoicing,” he said and spoke of a sign to the nations that God is working in the world to save us.
Bishop McManus talked about Lent as a special season of grace and renewal, linked to Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and prayer. Jesus knew he would suffer and die, but was willing to go to the cross to save “you and me,” he said.
“Are you willing to let the grace of God work in your life?” he asked the catechumens and candidates.
He talked about sacraments through which they will receive that grace: dying with Christ in baptism and rising to new life, receiving the Holy Spirit at confirmation and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time in the Eucharist.
He told them they are not alone, but are accompanied by the entire Church: the saints in heaven, the souls in purgatory and “each one of us.”
He urged them to use well these days of preparation for the sacraments.
“Choose life,” he said. “Choose God.” And God, who is faithful, will reward them with the gift of eternal life.